Researchers at a Chinese university have developed a hydrogel that could improve patient outcomes from a minimally invasive cancer treatment using microwaves.
Microwave ablation – which involves using a needle to transmit electromagnetic waves into a tumour to kill cancer cells – is widely used for treating several types of solid tumours, including those caused by pulmonary and colorectal cancer, as well as hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.
However, the treatment in its current form frequently causes side effects and the tumour can sometimes come back.
A newly discovered type of hydrogel, which enables the ablation to work at reduced power and concentrate the microwave heat inside the injected zone, could offer hope against the severity of side effects and tumour recurrence.
Developed by researchers at Soochow University in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, the hydrogel improved the outcome from the conventional microwave ablation treatment in lab animals, according to a recently published study in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
Feng Liangzhu, corresponding author of the study and an assistant researcher at Soochow University, explained how microwave ablation works.
“The treatment involves placing a needle through the skin into the tumour. Microwaves are created from the needle to create a small region of heat. When the heat reaches about 60 degrees Celsius, it can kill cancer cells in five to 10 minutes,” Feng said.
However, if the shape of the tumour is irregular or it is close to large blood vessels, the traditional treatment could cause severe heat damage to normal tissues surrounding the cancerous tumour.
“So we wanted to develop a material that could direct the heat at the tumour more precisely and reduce the likely damage to the surrounding healthy tissues.”
Feng and his colleagues found that adding calcium ions into the conventional hydrogel helped improve both the efficacy and accuracy of the treatment.
The researchers combined conventional sodium alginate hydrogel with calcium ions and injected them into cancerous cells in laboratory mice. Some of the mice were then randomly picked out and subjected to microwave radiation. (SCMP)